I thought I’d share some of my impressions of some of the papers I attended.
The conference featured seven plenary addresses, which everyone attended, and three groups of concurrent session. I’ve recounted now, and I guess I only heard 16 papers in all (counting my own), not 19 as I had thought. I don’t have comments on all of them, as sometimes one cannot help but daydream from time to time.
Two of the plenary addresses, Reginster’s and Poellner’s, did not have much impact on me. I’m sure it’s my fault: I was jet-lagged, and even if I hadn’t been, my mind tends toward broad and shallow, and their papers were focusing fairly narrowly and deeply on topics that don’t interest me much. Reginster was documenting Nz’s account in GM about how the Christian sense of guilt emerges from a more basic, everyday sense of guilt. One key point that I found interesting is that Reginster claimed Nz wasn’t really interested in providing a more general account of how guilt arises in the first place; rather, he was interested in a diagnosis of the Christian variety of guilt — that is, Nz was more interested in pathology than reduction. That seems right.
Poellner’s paper was concerned with understanding the precise sense in which the hatred giving rise to slave morality could be in any sense unconscious. Actually, Poellner was arguing that hatred simply can’t be unconscious; instead, it must be conscious, but the slaves are engaged in loads of self-deception about it. Okay.
I’ll mention two other concurrent session papers for now. Lawrence Hatab focused on the importance of language for self-consciousness, and a puzzling remark of Nz’s, that “man thinks without knowing it.” The upshot, I think, is that a lot of our thinking is done for us, by our language communities, and by the time our consciousness comes on the scene, a lot of presuppositions are already in place. This leads to interesting questions about the ontology of individuals in Nz: basically, there can’t be any, without a community providing a deep and significant backdrop.
In the same session, Jutta Georg-Lauer probed the embodiment of consciousness in Nz. So far, Nz claims, “we have embodied only our errors.” The task is to embody something other than errors. He thinks our embodied knowledge must be enhanced, and not further abstract/conceptual knowledge: we need a different way of being in the world, to speak Heideggerianingly. Doing this means reducing the opposition of body and reason, and recognizing thoughts as shadows of the senses and reflexes. We also must devalue the notion of truth, in the sense in which we have regarded truth since Plato. We should allow for the ecstasies of “body reason,” and let the natural affinities of the body replace our marshaling our forces under the will to truth. Very provocative, I thought, though I guess I’m too will-to-truth oriented to really climb aboard that wagon.
The ontology of individuals in Nietzsche is something I’ve been thinking about a lot. It’s grown less clear to me whether individuality is even a primary value for him, despite the fact that the individual seems to be the primary unit of value for him. In other words, individuality might be a kind of formal value in the sense that the individual is the necessary locus for the substantive values and excellences he celebrates. Concern for the individual and its flourishing, on this reading, is derivative of concern for those values and excellences it instantiates. I guess this might have affinities with Hurka’s perfectionist reading. I’ve grown more inclined towards this derivative view of the value of individuality from TSZ and several sections of the “Free Spirit” chapter in BGE where Nietzsche cautions against an unqualified approval of the striving for independence.
Poellner’s topic raises for me perplexities in making sense of the (social) psychology of the “slaves”, and of how their “cunning” and self-deception mutually reinforce each other. It’s clearly an interpersonal phenomena. I think the key lies in Nietzsche’s account of “vanity” in BGE 156 (which echoes a section in HH1) and in several sections of TSZ. The “cunning” involves the (semi-?)consciousness deception of others, but the self-deception involves taking some kind of credence in the effect on the others one’s cunning has caused. It’s as if one has set going a process in the midst of which has ceased becoming the agent of it in order to be its recipient. I reckon the self-deception lit might come in handy (though so far, from my very limited acquaintance, mostly confined to Davidson, I seem to find corroboration of its soundness more than further clarity of Nietzsche’s understanding of self-deception). Jenkins’ paper at the conference looked like it might make a contribution to this issue. Looking forward to the rest of your report.